The American Football League, or AFL, was a professional league of American football which operated from 1960 to 1969. Of all the leagues that have attempted to challenge the dominance of the NFL, it was the only one to be truly successful. In 1970, the two leagues merged into a single league.
The AFL benefited from having been formed just at a time when professional football was beginning to catch up with (and eventually, in the 1960s, overtake) baseball as the most popular sport in the United States. It took advantage of this burgeoning popularity by locating teams in major cities that lacked NFL franchises, and by using the growing power of televised football games (bolstered with the help of a major network contract). At the same time, it successfully engaged the NFL in a costly bidding war for talented players. It was this bidding war, which was financially draining both leagues, that eventually led to the merger.
The AFL appealed to fans by offering a flashier alternative to the more conservative NFL. Team uniforms were bright and colorful. Long passes ("bombs") were commonplace in AFL offenses, led by such talented quarterbacks as John Hadl, Darrel Lamonica, and Len Dawson. Some innovative rules changes were also put into place, such as the two-point conversion (later adopted by the NFL in 1990s), and the use of the scoreboard clock as the official game clock (adopted by the NFL when the leagues merged--prior to this time, the official game clock was maintained by an official on the sidelines, and often did not match the scoreboard clock very closely).
In 1966, the two leagues paved the way for a merger by agreeing to operate a common draft, and to carry out a championship game between the two league champions. The title game has come to be known officially as the Super Bowl, but originally this was just a nickname (coined, apparently, by AFL team owner Lamar Hunt, whose son owned a toy called a "super ball"); the game was, at first, officially called the AFL-NFL World Championship Game. The NFL champions in both 1966 and 1967, the Green Bay Packers, decisiviely defeated the AFL champions in the first two Super Bowls, thus confirming the view of many NFL supporters that the NFL was the superior league. However, the AFL champions won the last two Super Bowls before the merger was completed in 1970. The first of these two victories was carried out by the New York Jets over the heavily favored Baltimore Colts, and was one of the most heralded upsets in sports history.
When the two leagues merged, the AFL had 10 teams, the NFL 16. These formed the basis for the National and American conferences of the newly merged NFL. Three teams from the NFL (the Baltimore Colts, Cleveland Browns, and the Pittsburgh Steelers), moved to the American Conference so that both conferences would have the same number of teams. In order to produce an eight-team playoff tournament with six divisions, the NFL instituted the innovation of the wild card playoff team, where the best second-place finishers in each conference qualified. This innovation was later imitated by major league baseball.
The original eight AFL teams were as follows:
- Boston Patriots (now New England Patriots)
- Buffalo Bills
- Dallas Texans (now Kansas City Chiefs)
- Denver Broncos
- Houston Oilers (now Tennessee Titans)
- Los Angeles Chargers (now San Diego Chargers)
- New York Titans (now New York Jets)
- Oakland Raiders
The league expanded to ten teams in 1967, adding the following:
From 1960 to 1968, the AFL determined its champion via a single playoff game between the winners of its two divisions. In 1969 and 1970, a four team tournament was instituted, with the second place teams in each division also participating.
AFL Championship Games
1960 - Houston Oilers 24, Los Angeles Chargers 16 1961 - Houston Oilers 10, San Diego Chargers 3 1962 - Dallas Texans 20, Houston Oilers 17 (OT) 1963 - San Diego Chargers 51, Boston Patriots 10 1964 - Buffalo Bills 20, San Diego Chargers 10 1965 - Buffalo Bills 23, San Diego Chargers 0 1966 - Kansas City Chiefs 31, Buffalo Bills 7 1967 - Oakland Raiders 40, Houston Oilers 7 1968 - New York Jets 27, Oakland Raiders 23 1969 - Kansas City Chiefs 17, Oakland Raiders 7